Earthbound had a review coming almost since before I even played the game. That's how hyped I was getting in. Now, before I get crucified, I would just like to explain that I have absolutely no systems listed below to play this game, so I was forced to emulate it on my phone. Just wanted to state that up front.
Anyways, I decided to review this game from the moment I reached the first level, Onett, and heard it's music. I love that theme so much that I'm actually going to be listening to it (as well as the rest of the soundtrack) for the entirety of writing this review. Just keep that in mind, and maybe listen to it yourself.
Also, one last note: I try to keep all of my reviews decently short and concise, which isn't hard for most flash or mobile games, but Earthbound is much more than most flash or mobile games. I'm not sure how long this review is going to be, but hopefully not too long.
Developer: HAL Laboratory, Creatures, Ape, Inc.
Format: SNES, GBA, Wii U (VIrtual Console)
Price: 10 USD (Wii U Virtual Console)
Earthbound is a classic JRPG that perfectly hit the nail on the head with what I was looking for in a JRPG: Good turn-based combat, an awesome world, characters, and story to immerse myself into, and not much else. Well, Earthbound had all of this plus more. It had not only the things I wanted, but it did so with a little (or big, really) dash of bizarreness and humor. It did a lot of things right, and is well worth the classic status.
Now let's speak gameplay. Just generic walking around, classic JRPG style, is fun. Exploring each area and the characters and enemies in each area is amazing. The whole game is actually kind of linear, with almost every coincidence being a mandatory part of progressing the plot. There aren't a whole lot of side-quests, but thankfully the main quest is compelling enough to keep the player playing it for most of the game anyways.
Earthbound is best seen as a story that you, the player, are playing out. You're just living out the story through the characters in the game. Once you just learn to view the game as an adventurous tale instead of a crazy and complex web of paths to go down you'll enjoy everything from exploring the world to fighting enemies to advancing the plot a lot more than you would otherwise.
Speaking of fighting enemies, Earthbound did something pretty cool for me. You see, as someone who has played Pokémon up until the 4th Generation, I got sick of the basic JRPG turn-based system. It felt like I was just spamming attacks that the enemy were weak against, and beating important people via grinding and leveling up (which I can write an amazing post about separately). Earthbound doesn't do this. It's combat system is amazing.
There are three primary methods of fighting: basic attacks, PSI attacks, and goods. Basic attacks are attacks every character can do and consistently do a decent amount of damage (assuming you character's gear is up to level), and also have opportunities for critical hits (or SMAAAAAAAASH hits). PSI abilities come in a wide variety of uses and have multiple levels. The higher the level the more damage it does, at a pricier cost in PSI Points. There are a limited amount of PSI points a character can have at a given level. Lastly are goods, which can go things like gain HP or PP or things like keep enemies from moving for a turn. The true strategy of combat is juggling which is the three to use and to what degree.
Each character is to be used differently according to what they can do. Ness deals lots of damage, takes lots of damage, and heals lots of damage. He honestly becomes pretty overpowered towards the end of the game due to how much HP and PP he has in conjunction with his offense and PSI abilities. Next is the adorable Paula, so is the main offensive PSI character, or the mage of the group. Third is Jeff who, while having no PP and being unable to use PSI attacks, can be the goods user, especially since the strong bottle rockets can only be used by him. Fourth is Prince Poo, who works as a support for everyone. He has some offensive PSI, some recovery PSI, and can really just do that extra move the group needs to push forward. All in all, everyone has their place.
Earthbound also makes a lot of advancements on the JRPG's combat formula with a few things. For starters, combat is initiated by running into a visible enemy sprite, so it's possible to run away or get the jump on them. If you are behind their sprite while combat starts, your party gets an extra turn. If they are behind you, then they get an extra one. Also, the health system is amazing. If a character takes damage that would take them out, instead of instant death the health counter goes down consistently, giving you time to raise their health and keep them from falling out of combat. A character's health stops dropping once the battle is over, and if it's at zero it'll turn to 1 HP.
The enemies in Earthbound are great, bizarre, and maybe just a tad bit unexplained. They can do basic attacks, PSI attacks, and other things like call for more enemies to join the battle or explode upon death. You learn to deal with each one differently, building strategies with each one or combination of some. They come in a wide variety can can range from not a threat to a huge fuckin' threat. Just depends where you are in the game, really. The difficulty curve is well done.
Now the story is something I do not want to spoil in the slightest, so I will only give the general gist. Ness has to channel the power of Earth via traveling to eight "Your Sanctuary" spots so that he can stop the evil of a character named Giygas. It involves a lot of exploration, many locations, intriguing characters, a slew of problems to solve, a little bit of time travel, and in the end, one amazing and memorable adventure. The world is so diverse, bizarre, and quirky with a specific style of humor that you can't help but warm up to. It's got every emotion possible, all portrayed nicely on one planet.
The art is beautiful, even for the SNES. A perfect color pallet, adorable art style, and good animations make the visual style for this game so god damn beautiful. It's a memorable art style that hasn't aged a day. One problem is the combat scenes, which are like a lucid trip-fest. The background is almost always a slew of animated patterns of a variety of colors. It's not too bad, but not always super good for the feeling of a fight. On the other hand, it can be amazing for others, so like I said, it's not too bad at all.
The music is almost the exact same case as the visuals, just auditorial. The sound direction is masterfully done, with so many fitting and satisfying sound bits it overwhelms me just to think about. The music is some of the best I've heard to this day. It's masterwork of an OST portrays the tone and atmosphere of the Earthbound world so well it's insane. The tone ranges from mysterious to adventurous to whacky to terrifying to serious. Same deal as the visuals though with combat. Some pieces of music aren't too fitting for a fight, but others are superb.
Aesthetics are beautiful.
There is probably one major problem I can think of with this near masterpiece, and that problem would be the menus. Scrambling around in the menus is not fun. Moving stuff around in every character inventories and equipping and selling and storing and everything can take ages at times. Each character only has a certain amount of slots for good they can carry, and some are always taken up by the things they have equipped as del as plot items, leaving less room. It can be a pain but once you learn the ins and outs it isn't super-duper horrible.
Earthbound is up there with Pause Ahead in my book of games that are the closest games to be masterpieces. Earthbound was a blast. It was (and still is) an amazing, adventurous, charming, happy, clever, emotional, well-designed game. It makes it up there as my favorite JRPG to date and my second favorite RPG, being barely trumped by Fallout 2. It has easily nestled it's place into my favorite games of all time, and for that feat it'll be cherished forever.
Also, as I played Earthbound I ended up noticing how the entire game was an excellent metaphor for childhood. In the eventual future I will probably write more about this.
Sorry for the buttons on the images. Emulator fag, I know.